Alan Gilbert was born in New York City, into a New York Philharmonic family. Both his father, Michael Gilbert, and his Japanese mother, Yoko Takebe, have had careers as violinists in the Philharmonic — his father retired in 2001, and his mother still performs in the orchestra. Growing up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Gilbert attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School. As a youth, he learned the violin, viola, and piano.
In the 1980s Gilbert studied music at Harvard University, where he was music director of the Harvard Bach Society Orchestra in 1988--89. While in Boston, Gilbert also studied with violinist Masuko Ushioda at the New England Conservatory of Music. After obtaining his degree at Harvard, Gilbert studied conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School of Music with Otto-Werner Mueller. In 1994, he won the Georg Solti prize, which garnered him a week's private tutoring with maestro Solti. Also in 1994, Gilbert won first prize at the International Competition for Musical Performance in Geneva.
Gilbert made his first conducting appearance with the New York Philharmonic in 2001. After a total of 37 appearances as guest conductor, on July 18, 2007, the New York Philharmonic appointed Gilbert as its next Music Director, effective with the 2009--10 season. He is the first native New Yorker to hold this position. His contract includes a commitment of 12 subscription weeks of concerts per season for five years. Gilbert made his debut performance as the orchestra's new music director on the September 16, 2009 opening night gala, with a well-received program of Magnus Lindberg, Olivier Messiaen, and Hector Berlioz, which was telecast nationally on PBS's Live from Lincoln Center.
Gilbert is a conductor who has built much of his reputation conducting contemporary and American music, and his appointment by the Philharmonic marks somewhat of a shift by the orchestra away from his more conservative predecessors Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, and Zubin Mehta. For his inaugural 2009--10 Philharmonic season, Gilbert has introduced a number of new initiatives, including the presence of Composer-in-Residence Magnus Lindberg and Artist-in-Residence Thomas Hampson. The festivals and tours he has introduced include CONTACT — the Philharmonic's new-music series; and a major tour of Asia and the Middle East in October 2009, with debuts in Hanoi and Abu Dhabi. During his tenure Gilbert will lead the orchestra in performances of several countries , U.S., and New York premieres.